Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III wants to launch a joint fund-raising committee with several Democratic Senate candidates who are seeking to flip Republican-held seats, a crucial part of the party’s plan to wrest back control of the chamber.
The only problem, the Kennedy team says: The Democrats’ Senate campaign arm doesn’t want his help.
One of the Democratic party’s strongest fund-raisers, Kennedy planned to use the joint committee to raise money for an initial group of four Democratic challengers, including Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, who is running against GOP Senator Susan Collins.
The Kennedy campaign made the offer to launch the fund to the four campaigns Tuesday morning. The candidates were receptive, and everything appeared to be moving forward smoothly until the Kennedy team got a call from one of the other campaigns saying the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had told them they could not enter into an agreement with the Newton Democrat, according to a Kennedy campaign aide.
“Congressman Kennedy will continue to support efforts across the country to flip the Senate so Democrats have the votes to pass everything from climate action to gun violence legislation in 2021,” said Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Emily Kaufman.
The committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The four campaigns Kennedy had hoped to help could not be reached for comment.
Kennedy’s decision to launch a primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey angered party leaders, with many Democratic senators among those who publicly criticized the decision. Among their key complaints, officials argued that launching an expensive primary fight against a well-respected incumbent is diverting valuable resources and donations away from more important races around the country.
Kennedy aides voiced frustration that after making those arguments against their candidate, the party is now standing in the way of Kennedy seeking to help raise money in key races.
The senatorial campaign committee endorsed Markey and is actively supporting his reelection, although it has not detailed what resources it will devote to his campaign. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York appeared as the special guest at a high-dollar fund-raiser for Markey at the end of last year.
Democratic candidates in competitive races typically rely on the committee for extensive support, and are therefore unlikely to accept Kennedy’s help over the objections of party officials.
The Kennedy campaign didn’t plan to keep any of the proceeds for his race. Rather, the goal was to leverage his robust donor network to direct funds to these key races.
The plan, according to Kennedy’s campaign, was to launch a fund that would initially support four Democratic challengers, with the potential to expand: Gideon in Maine; Jamie Harrison, who is taking on Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; veteran and former state legislator Cal Cunningham of North Carolina, who will face off against incumbent Thom Tillis; and Kansas state Senator Barbara Bollier, a former Republican who defected to the Democratic Party last year and is running to replace retiring GOP Senator Pat Roberts.
Joint fund-raising arrangements, which are federally regulated, allow participants to share the overhead costs of raising cash. They also mean wealthy donors can write one big check to the fund, which then splits the money among participants.
The limits on such donations are the same as individual donations. For instance, this election cycle individual donors can give a maximum of $2,800 to a candidate in both the primary and general election, or $5,600 total.
Kennedy was an in-demand surrogate on the trail during the 2018 midterm elections as well as a valuable fund-raising force in the Democrats’ successful effort to take back the House. He campaigned in 18 states and raised nearly $5 million for Democratic candidates across the country, according to his campaign.
Those efforts included a series of joint fund-raising committees he set up with Representative Katherine Clark of Melrose and other members of the Massachusetts delegation that supported 38 Democratic challengers, most of whom won their races. Altogether those joint committees raised $1.5 million, according to Kennedy’s campaign.
For the current cycle, Kennedy and Clark, along with Representatives Richard E. Neal, Lori Trahan, and Ayanna Pressley, set up another joint committee that raised $1 million for 27 House colleagues in tough reelection fights, according to the Kennedy team.
Since 2017, Markey contributed and raised approximately $2 million for Democratic congressional candidates, with a focus on competitive Senate races, such as those in Montana and Missouri, according to a Markey spokeswoman. Markey did not stump for any candidates outside of Massachusetts in the 2018 cycle, according to his campaign.